Well they say if all else fails, try again, and that’s what BlackBerry Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) (TSE:BB) keeps trying to do. It failed to get back into the smartphone industry in a meaningful way, but now it has its eyes on another industry: the social networking industry. The company wants to transform BlackBerry Messenger from a basic messaging app into a social network.
But will it work? That’s the big question as the company will have to face off with the likes of Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB), Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) and LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD).
BlackBerry tests BBM Channels
One of the features BlackBerry Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) (TSE:BB) has said it would be rolling out soon is BBM Channels. Matt Hartley of the Financial Post reports that the company is testing the feature with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., as well as other potential clients. Maple Leaf executive Jeff Deline said he expects to see BBM become their newest tool for social engagement as they plan to use it to connect fans to its three major properties: the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto Raptors and Toronto FC. They believe fans of professional players will enjoy learning more about their personalities and what they have done during the week.
Om the beginning, the sports company will create three main BBM channels for its professional teams. Executives remain open to creating more channels later, possibly with some of them dedicated to individual players.
Is BBM really anything more than Facebook or Twitter?
At this point, BBM Channels doesn’t sound like anything besides what Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) and Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) are already doing. People can subscribe to specific channels to follow their interests, just as they can subscribe to Twitter accounts or Facebook pages. They can also interact with celebrities on these pages, just as they can through BBM Channels. What the company really needs for BBM to be a major success is some sort of differentiation from these other companies.
BlackBerry Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) (TSE:BB) has been struggling to survive for quite some time, looking for revenue in just about every place. Instead of going private under the offer from Fairfax Financial, the company sold some debentures in an attempt to prolong its life. But will BBM Channels be the lifeline the company needs?
Why BlackBerry might have a chance
So far BlackBerry says there have been over 30,000 channels set up in BBM with 100,000 users of the app already following those channels, suggesting that the new platform might be an early success. The company said after establishing big brand names, it expects to generate revenue by providing target and relevant sponsored content to users, just like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
They don’t plan to put ads in regular BBM chat or Channels but may consider offering featured channels on the landing screen for BBM. It is also looking for additional sources of revenue within BBM, like virtual goods or premium services which enterprise customers may be interested in.
Recently BlackBerry revealed a key acquisition which makes this push into social media make a little more sense. It acquired social media account management company Scroon over the summer. The company could have some important insights for BlackBerry which might give it an edge since Scroon’s expertise could offer some ideas for differentiating BBM from the other popular social networks.
BBM well-received by iOS, Android users
One other thing BlackBerry does have going for it is the fact that the iOS and Android versions of its once-popular messaging app seem to have launched it into popularity again. The company has watched the user base of BBM grow from 60 million to over 80 million in a little over a month, in spite of the numerous snafus encountered when rolling out the app to competing platforms.
BlackBerry Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) (TSE:BB) will roll out BBM Channels to users of BlackBerry devices today and then to Android and iOS users over the next couple of months.